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Windows 10 is Pretty… but not Pretty Enough to Bring me Back

Published August 3, 2015 - 0 Comments
Windows-10-Super-Wallpaper-HD-14

Windows 10 is pretty

I swore off buying Microsoft Windows computers a few years ago.  I’d owned many of them over the years… from Windows 3.11 up to Vista.  Then I bought my first Mac, and I’ve never looked back.  I’ve been so happy with my Macs that I even bought one for my sister, rather than continue to live the eternal hell known as being “the computer guy”.  My mission to eradicate Windows from my family was thwarted by my Mother secretly replacing her new Chromebook with a Windows laptop with touch screen.  Shit.  Well.. there’s one in every family.

Then I heard a tale of woe… Jess’ cousin had a Windows 7 laptop that was sick.  Very sick.  Plagued with unwanted pop-ups and chronic pokiness.  Several times she had taken it to a local computer shop, and within days the troubles re-appeared.  It was an endless nightmare.  Or as I like to think of it… just another day with Microsoft Windows!

I couldn’t stand by and allow this to continue.  I had to do something.  But I’m old.  I haven’t had to troubleshoot Windows problems in seemingly forever.  (except at work, but hey.. that’s another story)  Could I even do this anymore?  There was only one way to find out.

“If you want to drop it off to me sometime, I’ll take a look at it for you.”

It was official.  I had come out of retirement.  Me vs Windows in a bloody, take-no-prisoners, bout.  A fight to the finish.  A clash of the titans.  Insert your own hyperbolic statement here.

I’d been out of the game for so long, I had to get myself back into shape.  I trained.  I Googled.  I talked to people who continue to do this for a living.  It was going to be ugly.  I needed the best tools for the job.  File scanners.  Harddrive utilities.  Anti-virus.  Anti-malware.  Anti-spam.  Anti-biotics. Even a bottle of Captain Morgan.  I had my work cut out for me.  And then something happened… a new icon appeared at the bottom of the screen…

Get Windows 10.

Really?  Well shit… that’s convenient!  Yup!  On the very same day that I sat down to try to clean the infected laptop, Microsoft released Windows 10.  After checking with Julie, I backed up her important files and went through the clean installation process.  Microsoft has greatly improved this from the days of old.  It’s very straight forward.  I had a brand new installation of Windows 10 installed in an hour.  It’s pretty.  It’s definitely faster than what she had been using.  Is it perfect?  I doubt that.  I assume there will be a bit of a learning curve to try to figure out where things are, and what they do, but that’s normal with any new software release.  I just need to be clear when I hand the laptop over to her… no support questions!

I’m retired.

The Apple Watch or “Apple Has Finally Created a Product that I Have no Real Interest In”

Published May 4, 2015 - 4 Comments

Screen-Shot-2014-09-09-at-3.13.40-PMI wrote “Apple finally created something that I have no interest in” to a friend of mine recently.  He immediately replied with “What?  A treadmill?”  Well played.  Well played indeed.

Apple’s latest creation confuses me.  On one hand I think that it’s gorgeous.  On the other hand, I can’t get over the fact that it’s just a watch.  The sport model starts at $449 and that’s not even the nice looking one.  That’s a lot for something that sits on your wrist and doesn’t do anything drastically different from the phone that it is required to be paired with.

Last night I sat through an unboxing video from DetroitBORG and it’s true… the Apple Watch is beautiful.  But as I watched him go through the functionality there wasn’t anything that made me think I wanted to plunk down that kind of money.  I can’t even tell you when the last time I even wore a watch was.  I feel like Apple is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.  It worked for the iPad.  I’m not feeling it this time.

Future Shop Closes its Doors. To Be Reborn as Best Buy.

Published March 29, 2015 - 0 Comments

future-shop-900x527What a shock it must have been for the employees.  Show up to work and find yourself locked out.  No notice.  Nothing.  I imagine that there were more than a few tearful phone calls to supervisors who probably didn’t know any more than anyone else.  Apparently that’s how things roll in corporate Best Buy land.  All Future Shop stores across the country are closed.  The website posts this little diddy to the left.  Dear Valued Customer.  Uh huh.  Too bad the employees weren’t nearly as valued.

I remember going into my first Future Shop back in the 1990s.  It was in Kingston, Ontario and I had never seen a store like that before.  Wall to wall electronics, computers, and games.  I’d have a little geekgasm every time I stepped through those doors.  If there was a heaven, Future Shop was it.  There was no Amazon to order from online.  There was barely an “online”.  Future Shop was that store you hoped you’d get locked into at night so you could have it all to yourself.

Eventually they opened one here, and while still awesome, the magic seemed to lessen a little.  It didn’t seem quite as special when I could go there anytime I wanted, as opposed to those summers spent in Kingston.  But that’s progress for  ya, and soon I think every city had their own Future Shop.  Maybe 131 locations was too ambitious, because in 2001 Future Shop was looking for a buyer. They found one in Richfield, Minnesota-based Best Buy.  The invasion had begun.  Best Buy would continue to operate Future Shop as a separate brand, while inserting their own stores into some markets.  This created an odd situation with Future Shop and Best Buy stores sometimes within sight of each other, fighting to serve the same customer.  Surely this couldn’t continue forever.  And that brings us to where we are today.  131 stores closed without notice.  66 of those will remain closed for good.  The other 65 will be reborn as Best Buy locations.  500 full-time and 1000 part-time gone.  But don’t worry… some of those former Future Shop employees will have an opportunity to apply for positions in the newly rebranded store.  Nothing screams “Valued Employee” quite like being locked out of your Red store and being told you can reapply for your old job after the Blue paint drys.

I’m not surprised that Best Buy is deciding to eliminate the Future Shop brand.  I’m more surprised that it’s taken them 14 years.  I can’t help but feel a little sadness though.  There’s nothing about the Best Buy brand that connects with me in the way that Future Shop did during those long-ago summers.  If I could talk to my 22 year old self, what would I say?

Enjoy the moment, Stephen.  Enjoy the moment…

How I Use Buffer App to Maintain My Social Media Presence

Published October 12, 2014 - 0 Comments

bufferI’ve had a few people ask recently whether I sleep.  Of course I sleep!  Sometimes I sleep too much.  But it’s easy to see why someone might think that.  If you see a tweet from me at 2am or 4:30am chances are that you’re going to assume that I’m awake and tweeting for some particular reason.  While it might be a correct assumption on any particular day, it’s probably more likely that what you are seeing is my use of the web service Buffer to schedule my tweets and posts throughout the day and night.  Why would I want to schedule my tweets?  Sometimes my brain is full of silly little things that I’d like to share.  It doesn’t make sense to send them all out in one big bunch.  Better to spread them out.  Twitter is chaotic and most of us follow too many people.  It’s easy to miss something.  Using Buffer I can spread my thoughts out, and schedule them for the times suited for reading.  Notice how those after hours ones generate questions?  People are reading those.  🙂

Another great use of Buffer is the built-in analytics that quickly shows me which tweets were replied to, favourited, or re-tweeted.  It’s nice to see which ones are successful… although the downside is that some tweets don’t quite measure up in the real world as they did in my head  🙂

Buffer isn’t just for Twitter either.  You can link your Facebook, Google+, or Linked In accounts as well.  It’s great for staggering posts across different social media networks, and really allows me to be much more productive.

I’ve put together a short Buffer tutorial.  I’m trying to get more used to speaking during these tutorials, and it’s not as easy as some people make it seem.  Trust me.  The end gets a little rocky, but after no fewer than 10 attempts, this was as good as this one was gonna get!  I’m striving for improvement, not perfection.  So go easy on me if you decide to leave a comment.  🙂

Thanks for reading!

Lift – Using Technology to Form Good Habits

Published August 7, 2014 - 3 Comments

Lift_Black_Logo1I have a lot of habits… most of them bad.  It’s so easy to fall into the trap of repeating bad habits.  Most of the time I don’t even think about it.  It’s just second nature.  That’s why they’re habits!

They say that it takes 21 days of repeating the same action before it becomes a habit.  Most of my bad habits are 42 years in the making and not going to be changed easily.  I’ve tried different things, but in the end, the habit is usually still there.  Stronger than ever!  But there might be help for me.

I recently downloaded an app for my phone called Lift.  Lift allows me to select goals from suggested categories or add my own.  Then I can set up my frequency, and my reminders.  As I go through my day and perform these activities I click them off.  Seems simple enough.  The idea being that if I do these enough that they will eventually become second nature.

There’s also a social aspect to the Lift app.  You can choose to have your accomplishments posted to the activity board of the Lift community where people will give you props or comment.  If that’s not something that interests you, simply turn it off on one (or all) of your goals.

I set my goals to be realistic, yet still challenging:

  • Eat fruit 5 times/week
  • Read 3 times/week
  • Sleep by midnight 5 times/week
  • Stop drinking pop 1 time/week  (still haven’t achieved this one)
  • Take blood pressure 2 times/week
  • De-clutter 2 times/week
  • Walk 5 times/week
  • Take medication in evening 7 times/week
  • Weigh myself 1 time/week
  • Write blog post 5 times/week
  • Eat breakfast 5 times/week
  • Pack lunch 4 times/week
  • Wake up by 6:30 5 times/week
  • Write three positive things about the day 7 times/week

After about a week I can see that some of my goals are not being reached.  I haven’t had a single day without Coke.  That’s sad.  I haven’t gotten out to walk.  Or read.  Even my blog posting has been weak.  (Yes, I will click off today after publishing this one!)  Then there are others that are doing quite well.  Writing three positive things about today?  I’m on a 7 day streak with that one!  I’m better taking my medication now!  I’ve even gotten better at having breakfast and packing a lunch.  So who knows, maybe this will end up being a good thing.  Ask me in 21 days!

Apple Announces No New iPhones… Hooray!

Published June 12, 2013 - 1 Comment

silver-apple-logoApple had their big conference earlier this week.  Despite all sorts of speculation that a new iPhone was going to be announced, the event concluded without any such revelation.  I am probably one of the few Apple lovers who was actually happy about the lack of a new iPhone.  Seeing as I just bought my iPhone 5 last month, I wasn’t looking forward to seeing it become obsolete so soon.  At least now I can cling to the illusion non-obsolescence a little longer!

I do have to say that I love my iPhone 5.  I upgraded from a 3GS, which has been a fantastic phone, but was beginning to show its age.  The iPhone 5 is so much faster, and with 64GB of storage, I don’t have to worry about filling it up yet.  It’s considerably smaller than the 3GS, but my decision to purchase an OtterBox case dramatically adds to its size.  The OtterBox is a virtual fortress of protection, but makes the iPhone 5 rather clunky.. not unlike a 3GS!  I’m quite used to its size, but I keep joking that if I ever do take it out of the OtterBox for some reason, I’m not going to want to put it back in there.  It’s just such a sleek form factor.

This phone should do me quite well for the next few years!

Get Around Those Pesky Geo-Blocked Content Restrictions Easily With Hola Unblocker

Published February 15, 2013 - 3 Comments
Hola Unblocker

Consider these two scenarios:

 

  1. You are an American travelling on vacation. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to watch your favourite Netflix show?  Sure would, but because of the way content restrictions are imposed by geography, you are limited to whatever local flavour of Netflix is available to you.  Swaziland sketch comedies, anyone?
  2. You live anywhere outside of the United States and wish that you could watch the “real” Netflix that you read about on the internet, instead of the local watered-down version that you are forced to watch because all the “good” shows aren’t available on your Netflix account.

Do either of these sound familiar to you?  Chances are the second one does, especially if you are in Canada.  It’s been a long-standing complaint of many of us that the Netflix we have here is inferior to that of our friends to the south.  Whether that’s true is entirely up to you, but there’s certainly no denying that programming is different between the two and American Netflix has a much greater library of content to choose from.Hola Unblocker

So what do you do if you find yourself faced with one of the above scenarios?  Well, there have always been work-arounds available… as long as you didn’t mind playing with network proxy settings, or subscribing to a monthly VPN (Virtual Private Network) service.  As for the rest of us, we’ve been forced to suck it up and be happy with what we had.

Not anymore!

Let me introduce you to the simplest, most-effective way of gaining access to content that is traditionally blocked because of where you are.  Hola Unblocker is a free Chrome extension that takes seconds to download and install and begins working immediately.  There is no configuring.  No subscription.  Nadda.  Download it from the Chrome store (free) and install.  That’s it.  That’s all.  The extension runs automatically, and fools Netflix into thinking that you are logging in from within the United States.  (NOTE: You still require an active Netflix account.  Hola is not designed to give you unauthorized access to content.  And yes, your Canadian Netflix account will work on the US Netflix site).

It only took me a couple of minutes to test this.  I downloaded and installed Hola Unblocker, and went to Netflix.com and logged in.  I could tell immediately that this wasn’t the Netflix that I was used to.  I was able to start watching shows that hadn’t appeared to me earlier.  Then I turned off and extension, and refreshed the page.  Suddenly I was in my familiar Netflix experience.  You can toggle back and forth between US and Canadian versions.  It truly is that simple.

All this time I’ve been talking about Netflix, but Hola Unblocker works with more than just that service.  Hola currently unblocks the following sites, with a promise to add more as its popularity grows:

  • Hulu
  • Netflix
  • Pandora
  • cbs.com
  • fox.com
  • BBC.co.uk
  • ITV.com

And good news for Firefox users.  Hola has an extension for you as well, although I haven’t tested it.

In the current internet age, content restrictions based solely on geographic location are becoming increasingly ancient thinking.  But until media conglomerations fully accept the new reality and open their massive content vaults to a worldwide audience eager to pay for that access, companies like Hola provide the best solution for all parties.

Disable Dropbox Upload Speed Limits

Published December 5, 2012 - 2 Comments

Have you ever thought that it seems to take a really long time to upload your files to Dropbox?  You’re right!  One of the lesser known facts about Dropbox is that the default setting automatically limits the speed of uploads.  (Download speeds can also be limited, but this is not the default setting.  Only uploads.)  This probably isn’t an issue unless you’re trying to upload multimedia files such as a large presentation, a movie, or the latest batch of family photos… but really… do you really want it to take more time than is necessary?  Unlikely.

Thankfully you can easily disable this setting with the simple click of a mouse button.    Check out this little screen capture video that I made to find out how!

(yes.. I’m playing with new software… sorry…  the video is quite small, but if you click full screen, it looks pretty nice.  Will keep working on figuring this stuff out!)

How Good is Your Data Backup?

Published November 19, 2012 - 0 Comments

If you’re a fan of Apple’s iMessage instant message service, you probably noticed that yesterday was not a good day for iMessage users.  Apple reported that “some users” experienced an outage that lasted several hours through the afternoon and evening.  I’d be willing to bet that it was a little more than “some” because I couldn’t seem to find anyone who had iMessage working.  But that’s fine.. this isn’t about the failure… It’s about what happens after the failure.  It’s about the backup.

To be more accurate the backup actually takes place before the failure, and then the restore comes after.

It’s pure speculation on my part, but I imagine that at least one of Apple’s servers took a dive yesterday and had to be replaced.  Then the tedious process of recovering data from backups had to be completed.  Network administrators generally like to bring hardware back online gradually, rather than a single flick of the switch, so this would have taken time.  Imagine the sheer amount of data flowing through Apple, and the backlog of messages that might have made it into the queue before everything went down.

Now think of your own data.  Whether you have a single laptop that you carry from room to room, or an elaborate home or office network, undoubtedly you have plenty of data files that are precious to you.  Those movies of the baby’s first steps.  Pictures you scanned from your late grandfather’s collection.  Financial spreadsheets from the last 10 years.  And don’t forget the music..  oh the music…  Hours, no..  days of your life spent inserting CD after CD, ripping your favourite tracks to your hard drive  and cataloguing  them into precise mood-reflecting playlists.  Are you backing up this data?  Of course you are.  Are you sure?  How good is your backup?

It’s ironic timing, but I had actually planned yesterday as a test of one of my backup solutions.  All Apple computers come with Time Machine backup capabilities built-in.  Simply plug in an external hard drive, and your Mac will ask whether you want to use that drive for Time Machine backups.  Once you accept, Time Machine will automatically back up all your files (or only some, if you don’t want a full backup).  It’s a very slick system, but I’d never done a complete restore from backup.  Yesterday I decided to try that.

I wiped my Macbook Air clean of all data.. not even an operating system… I wanted to simulate a complete and total loss of data on my laptop.  After rebooting my OS X installation USB drive and plugging in the external Time Machine drive, I had a fully functioning laptop back up and running in 15 mins… with no personal data missing.  You can’t ask for much better than that!

I would never suggest that this full blown test is right for everyone.  I had minimized the risk by ensuring that my laptop wasn’t holding any critical files to begin with.  But I think we should all consider from time to time just how we’re backing up our most important files, and whether those files are really going to be there for us if we need them.  Computers are unpredictable, and failures do happen.  It happened to Apple.  It can happen to you too.

When Your Computer is Stolen You’ll be Happy You Have Prey Installed

Published October 6, 2012 - 0 Comments

I’ve never had a computer stolen.  I once had a couple of old Cisco routers stolen from the trunk of my car, but never anything like a computer, cell phone, or iPad.  When I think of those Cisco routers, I would love to have seen

the look on the thief’s face as he tried to figure out what the hell they were.  I was using them to study for a Cisco certification and even *I* wasn’t sure how to get them to work!  Good luck to any common thief trying to convince a pawn shop that they were worth anything.  I picture them rotting in a landfill somewhere.

But what if I did lose a laptop?  Or my iPhone?  Or one of the kids left their iPod somewhere and someone swiped it?  It happens all the time.   A thief can walk off with a couple of thousand of dollars worth of tech in one armful.  Leave the TV… it’s too heavy.  Stereo?  No way.  Oh… nice shiny iPad?  That’s worth $500-600 easily.  Same thing for a smart phone.  Macbook Air is $1100.  And it’s not just Apple products… a decent Windows laptop or desktop is still hundreds of dollars or more.  Your new Android phone is going to set you back $500 or more to replace.  These items are particularly attractive to thieves because of their high monetary value, small size, and ease of dumping… and the chances of the police recovering your stolen tech is slim to none.  By the time you’ve even filed a police report, your iPhone is packaged and on its way to an unsuspecting EBay buyer anywhere in the world.

So what can you do to dramatically increase your chances of recovering your stolen property?

Let me introduce you to a neat little program called Prey.  Before I go any farther, I’ll tell you that Prey comes in a free and a paid version.  Even if you don’t feel like spending a single penny to help protect yourself from thieving paws, I highly suggest that you consider installing the free version!  It’s not nearly as feature-rich as the paid version, but it’s still awesome, and you can install it on up to 3 devices.  And when I say devices, I mean any Windows, Mac, Linux, iPhone, iPod, iPad, or Android piece of tech that you own.  But forget about the free version for a minute, and let’s talk about the paid one.  I bought it.  Yup.  Yesterday.  So this isn’t me just looking around for things to promote… this is something I should have bought ages ago, and it’s only a fluke that I haven’t had to use it yet.  Trust me… every time one of my children says “I lost my iPod” I feel my skin crawl.  So far “lost” means that they forgot it at their grandmother’s house… or it’s under the bed… but it’s only a matter of time before one of them truly loses it.  And that’s where Prey comes in.

 

Installing the Prey client on your device takes less than a minute.  Once you log in with your Prey account, you’re all set.  From that point you can decide to never touch it again, or if you’re like me, you’ll probably want to log into the Prey website and simulate a “stolen” device.

You can see from the screenshots that you have a lot of different actions that you can take.  Simply move the selection bar from OK to MISSING, and you will start to receive reports from your stolen device as soon as it connects to the internet.  You’ll get a map of its current location, detailed information about the network that its connecting to, and even screenshots of what the thief is doing.  And my favourite?  Activate the webcam and have it email you a picture of the thief.  Say cheese!  You can also do standard stuff like lock the computer, have it display a message, sound an alarm, even speak a message in an eerie computer generated voice… “Hey shithead!  I want my computer back!”  Or whatever you feel like saying…

And even if your device hasn’t been stolen, it’s comforting to know that you can activate the siren for the times when you can’t remember where you set your iPhone.  Or when calling the children to the supper table is too boring, why not have their iPod talk to them in a robotic voice… “Supper.  Now!  That’s right.  You heard me.  Now!”   Oh… I can’t wait to get Prey installed on their iPods.

As I mentioned above, you can install the free version of Prey on up to 3 devices, and I think that it’s a great idea to do that.  The program will automatically capture your serial numbers, which are critical in recovering stolen goods, and most of us do not have these written down.  So at the very least, you will have that, and the ability to track your stuff should it wander away from you.  But I fully believe that this program is insurance for my electronics (Did I mention that the paid version can protect up to 10 devices? No?  Well I just did!), and more than willing to pay for it, especially given the amazing deal that the fine folks at AppSumo were able to offer.  If you’re not familiar with AppSumo, they are an awesome company that works to secure amazing discounts on software and training from other internet companies.  They’re primarily focussed on internet entrepreneurs but occasionally a deal comes along for the masses… like this one!

A one year subscription to Prey would normally cost $162, but if you buy it through AppSumo, you get it for a whopping $49. 

Will this change?  Probably.  Many of the AppSumo deals are time limited, but I don’t see a timer associated with this one.  Still, it’s unrealistic to think that this offer will be available forever… so at the time of this writing $49 is a pretty sweet deal for something that normally costs $162.

And like I said earlier… even if you don’t want to spend the money to protect your hard-earned tech… do yourself a favour and install the free version.  The Prey website has a section with customer testimonials… and these look to be 100% legit.

I wish that I had Prey installed on those Cisco routers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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